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South Korea adopts sharing approach to public WiFi

According to South Korea's JoongAng Daily, the country's Ministry of Science, IT and Future Planning (and with a name like that, why wouldn't it?) is going to extend its already free public WiFi service nationwide. It currently has a substantial 2000 free public access points, mostly in the cities, and it's planning to add 10,000 more locations to start to bring the rest of the county up to par. So far, so so-so, you might think. And so what?

The interest here is that South Korea has hit on an effective funding approach. The ministry appears to have hammered out a sharing deal with the country's three network operators. By throwing open the entire WiFi network to anyone, the government is essentially providing free offload to the country's mobile carriers (which is one way of looking at it). So in return, the 4000 operator-run hotspot location will also join the free scheme.

In the meantime the ministry will get busy building WiFi at 6000 public sites like health centres, community centres and so on, further increasing WiFi access volume and reducing strain on the operator networks. The expansion cost will also be shared by the operators.

The scheme essentially horizontalises the public WiFi market in South Korea. The government says it was interested in regional equity more than anything else: as things stood WiFi use was growing fast in South Korea and was saving citizens substantial sums in mobile broadband charges. The problem was that over half the WiFi hotspots were in the capital and largest city, Seoul. The government wanted to take action to reduce the 'information gap' nationally and the huge nationwide WiFi network is the result.

The ministry's goal is to establish 12,000 free Internet access spots by 2017.

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